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Grant Montgomery is co-founder of Family Care Foundation (FCF), a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for communities, families and children in 50 countries.

North Korean defector wants to go home but facing possible arrest

A North Korean defector who has demanded repatriation to her homeland, claiming she was tricked by a defection broker and came to South Korea by mistake, is once again in danger of arrest.

The Daegu Metropolitan Police Agency’s security investigation team is currently investigating Kim Ryon-hui, 48. Kim is being charged with posting materials praising the North Korean regime on her Facebook page in April 2016, including a video commemorating the Day of the Sun (a holiday celebrating the birthday of North Korean founding leader Kim Il-sung) and a song cheering for Kim.

Police are also charging Kim in connection with statements she made in a 2015 interview with the Hankyoreh. Her Feb. 2016 visit to the Vietnamese embassy in South Korea to demand to be sent to North Korea is also being seen as a National Security Law violation.

“Kim’s remarks are something we are obliged to investigate according to domestic law,” a police source said. “We are considering an arrest warrant request because we have sent three summonses to Kim as of June 13 demanding that she appear, and she has refused all of them,” the source added.

In Apr. 2015, Kim received a two-year jail sentence suspended for three years for making a telephone call to a North Korean consulate in China, which is considered meeting or communicating with North Korea according to the National Security Law. Kim claims that at the time that she was trying to alert North Korea to her detention and request rescue were not accepted by the court.

Kim has demanded her own repatriation. The Ministry of Unification maintains that Kim’s repatriation is not allowed by domestic law.

[Hankyoreh]

Why Otto Warbier received an extra dose of North Korean brutality

North Korea is known to have detained 16 American citizens since 1996, including three who are still in custody. They have been subjected to varying degrees of mental abuse but less often physical torture.

Since North Korea has generally refrained from physically abusing the Americans it has held, it makes the case of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old American college student who had been serving a 15-year sentence in North Korea, even more striking.

Mr. Warmbier was released in a coma and returned on Tuesday to the United States. A senior American official has said the United States obtained intelligence reports that he had been repeatedly beaten.

Dr. Daniel Kanter, director of the Neurocritical Care Program at the University of Cincinnati, said at a news conference, Warmbier has “severe injuries to all regions of the brain.”

Warmbier’s fate has cast new attention on how North Korea treats foreigners in captivity.

Despite its longstanding enmity toward the United States and its allies, North Korea has been deeply sensitive to outside criticism of its human rights record, billing itself as a righteous nation that respects international norms. It has used American prisoners as bargaining chips in dealing with Washington.  The prospect that the Americans might eventually be released as part of negotiations seems to have influenced their treatment.

The worst known case of abuse before Mr. Warmbier was that of Robert Park, a Christian missionary who said he was severely beaten by North Korean soldiers after he was caught in 2009 while walking across the border from China waving a Bible. After he was transferred to Pyongyang, North Korea, he said, he was subjected to torture –beating of his genitals with a club– so horrific he begged for death.

The news about Mr. Warmbier has also deepened the anxiety among families of South Koreans and Japanese citizens held in the North. One relative said he was shocked to hear of Mr. Warmbier’s release in a coma. “It’s like a warning to the U.S.,” he said.

[New York Times]

Three Americans still held in North Korea

Two of the three other Americans still being held in North Korea are academics who worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and the third is a businessman.

  • Kim Dong Chul, the president of a company involved in international trade and hotel services, was arrested in 2015 and is serving 10 years on espionage charges.
  • Kim Sang Duk, also known as Tony Kim, a university professor, was detained in Pyongyang in 2017 and accused of attempting to overthrow the government.
  • Kim Hak-song, a native Korean born in China (Jin Xue Song is the Chinese version of his name) and professor working at the same university as Tony Kim was detained May 6 on suspicion of “hostile acts” against the regime.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States is discussing their respective cases with the North Korean regime. The United States does not have a diplomatic mission in North Korea.

“It’s a delicate matter, he said. We’re working on it.”

[CNN]

Otto Warmbier hospitalized back in the United States

American college student Otto Warmbier has landed back in the United States after more than 17 months in detention in North Korea.

Warmbier has been in a coma for over a year, according to his parents, and was rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center late Tuesday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

His return to the US comes as questions swirl about his health and what happened to him while he was detained by the North Korean government. The 22-year-old contracted botulism last year and is in “bad shape,” a source close to the family told CNN. North Korea told a US official that Warmbier contracted botulism and slipped into the coma after taking a sleeping pill, a senior State Department official told CNN.

Since last March, the US had been pressing North Korea to let Swedish officials see the four Americans, the senior State Department official told CNN. When the Swedes finally got the okay to visit, the North Koreans immediately asked for a meeting with Joe Yun, the US envoy in New York, when he was told about Otto Warmbier’s condition.

In that meeting about a week ago, Yun was told that Warmbier had contracted botulism a year ago and went into a coma after taking a sleeping pill. US officials then urged those with the ability to persuade Pyongyang to ratchet up the pressure to get him released, said a source, who is familiar with the government’s efforts.

A second senior State Department official said the US has not yet accepted the North Korean version of events in terms of the timing and cause of how Warmbier fell into a coma. “All we know so far is what they have told us,” the official said. “This is the North Korean version of events. We won’t know anything for sure until doctors are able to fully evaluate Otto’s condition.”

[CNN]

Otto Warmbier, American student released by North Korea, is in a coma

American college student Otto Warmbier has been released after more than 17 months in detention in North Korea but has been in a coma for over a year, according to his parents.

The 22-year-old contracted botulism and is in “bad shape” but en route back to the United States, a source close to the family told CNN.

“Otto has left North Korea. He is on Medivac flight on his way home. Sadly, he is in a coma and we have been told he has been in that condition since March of 2016. We learned of this only one week ago,” said Fred and Cindy Warmbier in a statement. “We want the world to know how we and our son have been brutalized and terrorized by the pariah regime in North Korean. We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him.”

Warmbier was detained in January 2016 at the airport in Pyongyang while on his way home. His parents say the University of Virginia student had been on a tour of the reclusive country.

North Korean authorities said they had security footage of him trying to steal a banner containing a political slogan that was hanging from the walls of his Pyongyang hotel.

Warmbier was found guilty and sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years hard labor. It was the last time he was seen publicly.

“Otto’s detainment and sentence was unnecessary and appalling, and North Korea should be universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior. Otto should have been released from the start,” said US Sen. Rob Portman, who represents Warmbier’s home state of Ohio.

[CNN]

North Korea views humanitarian aid as leverage

So far North Korea has rejected South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s offers of unconditional humanitarian aid and cooperation. Since he took office in early May, the new liberal South Korean leader has tried to balance strong support for military deterrence and international sanctions against Pyongyang’s continued nuclear and ballistic missiles provocations with increased engagement to restart inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation.

The North Korean state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial last week that, “Nobody can expect relations to improve just because they allow some humanitarian aid or civilian exchanges that the previous conservative clique halted.”

North Korea has also set a steep price for allowing future reunions of families that have been separated by the division of the Korean Peninsula at the end of World War II. When the South recently proposed trying to arrange a new reunion in August to mark the anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Pyongyang demanded Seoul first return a group of North Korean defectors, including 12 restaurant workers who sought asylum in the South last year. North Korea charges that these defectors were abducted while South Korea says they voluntarily fled.

Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and analyst with the World Institute of North Korean studies, said the Kim Jong Un leadership is making seemingly impossible demands to improve inter-Korean ties because it expects relations to actually get worse in the short term.

The North Korea official news agency on Saturday indicated Pyongyang is close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could potentially reach the U.S. mainland.

“If North Korea does it, Kim Jong Un knows well that China will prepare sanctions such as blocking the oil pipeline (between the two countries,)” Ahn said.

[VoA]

South Korea suspends Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system

South Korea has suspended the deployment of a controversial American missile defense system, with the new liberal administration declaring no further moves can take place until an environmental assessment is carried out–a process that could take a year or even two.

The decision highlights the potential for a rift between the United States under a Republican president and South Korea with its new liberal president, Moon Jae-in, who is due to visit President Trump in the White House later this month for their first meeting.

Moon’s office Wednesday said it would suspend the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system, an anti-missile battery designed to protect the South against North Korea but which has elicited strong opposition, particularly where it is being deployed.

An unnamed official said there was no hurry to get the system up and running, given that North Korea had been a threat to the South for years, the official said.

“[North Korea’s] nuclear tests have been going on for a long time, and so whether we must urgently install [the THAAD battery] by ignoring our legal procedures is a question,” he said.

[Washington Post]                                                   Read more: China on THAAD

The two latest defectors from North Korea

A father and son saved from a small fishing boat were given permission to stay in South Korea – despite the chances of a fierce reaction from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The pair were rescued along with two others on another boat on Friday and Saturday. The other two men requested to head back to North Korea.

Tensions are running high between the two nations – who have been at war since 1950 – after the tubby tyrant launched a missile test today. This morning’s test fire marks Kim’s fourth weapons launch in recent weeks.

The man in his 50s and son in his 20s will be allowed to stay in South Korea for “humanitarian” reasons. In a statement, the Ministry of Unification in South Korea said: “The government handled the issue on humanitarian grounds and respected their will as we do customarily.”

A South Korean official said: “We will provide education for them to settle in South Korea, for a certain period of time, as is usual for North Korean defectors.”

Unusually, North Korea has not spoken out about the rescue yet – Pyongyang has condemned the “kidnap” of its citizens rescued in this way before.

 [Daily Star]

How defectors send money to relatives in North Korea

It is sometimes a challenge for North Korean defectors to find trustful middlemen to help them send money to relatives still in North Korea.

Brokers in South Korea wire money to middlemen in China, most of whom are smugglers or tradesmen with ties to North Korea. Then the middlemen call their contacts in the North to notify them of the amount of money to deliver out of the pockets of their North Korean counterparts while carrying out other trade deals of their own. The commission fee is between 20 percent and 30 percent in general.

For the past decade, Kim Hye-sook, a 42-year-old defector from North Korea, has successfully managed to send money to her elder sister and relatives who remain in the North. Kim was lucky enough to find someone in the transfer business who was a friend of a fellow defector. Although the commission fees are relatively high — around 30 percent of the amount entrusted — Kim’s money has always landed safely in the hands of her family.

“Looking at kids here, I cannot help but think of my nephews [in the North]. I wish they could live a decent life as they do here. I myself live on a tight budget with my husband, as I’m sick and can’t work. Nevertheless, I can’t stop sending money back home because I know exactly how they live in North Korea — it breaks my heart now just thinking of it,” Kim said during an interview.

[The Korea Herald]

North Korean defectors ripped off trying to send money to relatives

A few months after fleeing her destitute homeland for a more decent life in South Korea, North Korean defector Park received a tempting offer: Someone who could transfer money to her family in the North for a commission fee.

Haunted by memories of her three starving children and old mother living in Hyesan in the country’s far north Ryanggang Province, the 44-year-old defector eagerly handed over 20 million won ($17,900) to a broker — only to find out a month later not a single penny had reached her family.

“It is just outrageous to think that other defectors like me could easily fall prey to this kind of fraud, getting their savings wiped out,” says Park.

According to a 2016 survey from the Seoul-based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, around 58.5 percent of 400 surveyed defectors in South Korea have sent money home. Twenty-six percent said they did so last year, with the average remittance being about 2.35 million won ($2,100).

With a growing number of new arrivals falling prey to such scams, the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs and defector support, has expanded related education and set up a 24-hour hotline manned by officials at the Hanawon resettlement center. Most defectors are mandated to undertake a three-month training period there as soon as they admitted to South Korea.

Most defectors are not high-income earners, with their average monthly wages hovering around 1.5 million won ($1342/month).

[The Korea Herald]